Today I took a bit of time to run over to Kilkenny Castle, one of the main attractions in my current town.
It was built in 1195 in Kilkenny, right on the river, and was initially home to the Pembrokes. At the end of the 14th century, the Butler clan bought it and owned it for more than 500 years; in the 1930’s, they immigrated to the USA and their family still lives in the Chicago area. The castle was sold to the city of Kilkenny by the last Butler for 50 £ in 1967.
The castle itself was beautiful and old, and the exterior is a wonderfully haunting grey limestone. I’ll have to post photos later, as I went on a bit of a whim today and didn’t have my phone or camera.
The interior is grand and much had to be restored, because for 32 years the castle was uninhabited and dry rot corroded a lot of the building. They were able to restore the family’s drawing room to a replica, and their portrait and painting collection has been preserved, too. One of the cool pieces is a huge marble table in the reception room, which was also the family’s wake table where their deceased would rest for 3 days while family and friends would come and pay their respects.
My favorite tidbit I learned on the tour was about the “pole screens” that were in the drawing room. Basically, a pole screen is exactly what it sounds like: a little screen on a pole, often decorated, that was used to shield the ladies’ faces from the heat of the fire. They would use these to a) retain their ladylike complexions, and b) prevent their make-up, with a base of wax, from melting off. We get the phrase “saving face” from this.
The other thing I asked about at the end of the tour was, of course, the ghost stories. I had this romantic notion upon coming to Ireland that I’d query every barman in the old pubs about ghost stories of the pubs and such, and so far have been disappointed. At Kyteler’s Inn, which should have some killer ghost stories,* the bartender just shrugged and said he didn’t know any. Lame. The guide at the castle, though, had a few tidbits for me. Here they are:
- Unexplained whistling, especially in the west wing of the castle
- Footsteps/sounds of running children, especially in December & January, coming from a locked room
- Seeing a woman going down one of the corridors
- This one’s the best: multiple people spread years apart have toured and said they’ve seen a man reading a newspaper in one of the bedrooms the tour group goes into.